Although ‘wood’ laminates is a complete misnomer – the only wood used in their manufacture is that depicted in the photograph that provides the aesthetic appeal of the flooring – that doesn’t mean that the modern laminate floorcoverings do not provide superb, long-life, easy-to-clean floors when installed correctly in the right application.

Easy to install with the popular ‘click’ system that was developed by the laminate flooring industry, and provided with surface finishes that are wear- and abrasion-resistant (they can even handle cigarette burns!), a modern laminate floor will look great and – with the minimum of cleaning or maintenance – will last for years.

Laminate flooring can replicate a wide variety of exotic hardwoods, and varieties are also available with looks of different natural stone floors, but need neither the care nor attention that the original materials would require – and they are much less expensive to install.

However, as you can tell from the wide variety of cardboard advertisements found at many traffic intersections, there is still a plethora of charlatans, low-quality products, and inexperienced installers out there, so make sure your supplier and installer are accredited with the Southern African Wood & Laminate Association (SAWLFA).

To find out the latest state of play for laminates in the South African markets, FLOORS in Africa spoke with Peter Geyer, SAWLFA’s guru on these floorcoverings, who’s been there since day one.

Peter says that there is anything between one to one-and-a-half million square metres of laminate floors installed in South Africa, and this is increasing unabatedly all the time.

One would have thought that the introduction of the innovative luxury vinyl tiles in recent months would have affected the laminate market – especially as they are also a particularly effective replication of natural wood – but Peter says this is not so.

“I am responsible for both laminate flooring and LVTs at FloorworX and the impact one has over the other is negligible, but LVTs would seem to be taking market share from other floorcoverings – particularly ceramic tiles,” he says.

“Having said that, we are finding that some of the popular family restaurants are replacing other floorcoverings (including laminate floors) with LVTs because of their resistance to oil and grease and their ease of cleaning.”

Asked if the resurgence of bamboo flooring is having an effect, Peter says it is too early to say. “Laminates command well over 80% of this market sector, and if bamboo is making any considerable impact at all it is probably affecting engineered wood the most,” he says.

“Also, bamboo is currently a high-priced floorcovering competing with exotic hardwood and natural stone floors, so this is not the sector in which laminates seek to trade, although many of the top-quality laminates compete with the exotic materials both on price and performance.”

The quantity of Chinese imports is affecting the laminate sector in a big way, Peter says, with anything up to 70% of the imported laminates coming from this source. “There is nothing wrong with that if one specifies or installs a product that is known to be manufactured to recognised European standards, but unfortunately there is a lot of rubbish being brought in as well.”

The question of installation is also still a thorny one for the laminate industry. “There are still a lot of fly-by-night operators out there,” Peter says. “I get called upon to give advice on problem installations as a SAWLFA investigator, and I find these are always installed by untrained, unskilled people. Not once have we been called in for a complaint on an accredited SAWLFA contractor. That surely must tell you something!”

As Peter pointed out, the environmental benefits of selecting a laminate floor are compelling: they provide a ‘wood’ look floor without touching a single tree; they are easy to install; they need the minimum of cleaning or maintenance; they have no VOC problems in their manufacture; no adhesives are required; and they have a long service life.

Asked why the DIY market has not taken off in this country as it has in North America and Europe, Peter says there is a fair amount sold over the counter in the home improvement stores and large building materials outlets, but the average South African male has no interest in doing it himself. He will buy the materials and pick up a temporary worker off the street – or use one of the aforementioned fly-by-nights to install it for him.

“This is another recipe for disaster,” says Peter, “particularly as there is no recourse to the manufacturer or the supplier, if the floor goes wrong. Rather stick to an accredited installer if you are not able to do it yourself.”

To find out what does happen in the big stores, FLOORS in Africa spoke to Morné Steinmann, carpet buyer of Shoprite’s House & Home, and he says they do cater to potential DIY customers, but they have their own qualified installation teams available if required, which is recommended, to ensure that a perfect installation is achieved.